As the Cleveland Cavaliers become less watchable by the game, we’d like to offer you some alternative viewing experiences. The Cavs will almost assuredly be picking at the top of the 2019 NBA Draft, and it’ll be important to keep tabs on all of the top prospects this winter. That might be a challenge this year, as the class could have a lot of fluctuation during the season, especially outside of the top five. That can make it difficult to keep track of everyone.
But never fear — we will be here to provide your weekly watch guide to all of the top prospects. Each week, we will break out the best games of the week for NBA Draft interest, including who will be matching up and where to find the week’s top games in college basketball and Europe. This week, we ring in the new year with the beginning of conference play, meaning the bulk of our high profile action is upon us. While that likely means Gonzaga is off our radar for awhile, most of the top prospects should be facing stiff competition each week from now until March.
Marshall vs. Virginia - 1:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Marshall: Jon Elmore; Virginia: Deandre Hunter, Ty Jerome
This solid midmajor tune-up for the Cavaliers features top-10 prospect DeAndre Hunter, in a game that actually provides value in evaluating how he plays at a pace of play above the crawl of a World War I tank. Virginia strangles possessions; Marshall breeds them like rabbits, and that will stress Hunter on defense and allow for more open-court looks. There’s also the contrasting styles at point guard, with the volume-scoring, smooth-handled Elmore facing off with spot-up king Jerome in a second round prospect matchup.
Marquette vs. Saint John’s - 7:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports One
Marquette: Marcus Howard; St. Johns: Shamorie Ponds
Two pint-sized second round scoring point guards face off in Howard and Ponds. Expect lots of threes and poor finishing at the rim.
Nebraska vs. Maryland - 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Nebraska: Isaiah Roby; Maryland: Jalen Smith
A good battle between tradition and modernism at the four here, with second round prospects Smith and Roby battling. Roby’s the better prospect, but Smith will test his strength and ability to defend in the post and on pick-and-pops.
Cornell vs. Wake Forest - 7:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Cornell: Matt Morgan; Wake Forest: Jaylen Hoard
A good chance to catch Hoard again as well as Ivy League super scorer Matt Morgan, who averages 23.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game and is a high-level shot maker. He is Cornell’s offense, and this game should give us a good shot to look at Hoard’s space defense.
Buducnost vs. AX Milano - 2:45 p.m. ET, Euroleague TV
Buducnost: Goga Bitadze; AX Milano: Future Cavaliers Legend Arturas Gudaitis
Since we last left you, there’s been some movement on the Euro front, as Bitadze left Mega Bemax to join the Adriatic League’s Euroleague representative from Montenegro. The team is not at the level of Darussafaka when our pal Ante Zizic made the switch to Euroleague in 2017, but Bitadze showed similar preparedness in his debut against Bayern Munich - 17 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks against Former Cavaliers Legend Derrick Williams. He’s quickly moved into my first round this year, and is going to get a great test in Cavs stash center Gudaitis, who has been brilliant this year in Italy.
Penn St. vs. Michigan - 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Penn State: Josh Reaves; Michigan: Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis
Reaves had a pretty quiet non-conference season, but he continues to be one of college basketball’s best point of attack defenders, and that’s going to mean plenty of valuable matchups against Matthews and Jordan Poole in this game.
Clemson vs. Duke - TBD, ESPN
Duke: Zion Williamson, Cameron Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, Jack White
Duke’s first test of the ACC season matches them up with an athletic Clemson team that doesn’t have Draft talent but has size that could bother Duke’s wings. This will be a tougher matchup than most for Zion in particular, who has to deal with Elijah Thomas on the interior, a rangy athlete that can stand up to his strength.
Kentucky vs. Alabama - 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Kentucky: Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington; Alabama: Herb Jones, Donta Hall
Keldon Johnson has struggled to score at times this year, and Washington struggles with consistency. That’s probably not good for having to face Herb Jones and Hall. This is going to be an ugly game, but how Johnson fares against a very good defense should be good tape.
Florida State vs. Virginia - 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Florida State: Trent Forrest; Virginia: DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome
Another good test for Virginia and Hunter. Terance Mann isn’t a high profile prospect, but he’s a good college floor spacer with the athleticism to score well off the bounce, and that will be Hunter’s primary assignment. We will also see if he can score on mammoth center Christ Koumadje. Forrest is a good stress test for Ty Jerome’s on-ball defense.
Kansas vs. Iowa State - 5:00PM ET, ESPN2
Kansas: Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, Dedric Lawson; Iowa State: Tyrese Haliburton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Lindell Wigginton
The guard matchup here is going to be fascinating, as Iowa States’ guards, who are more long-term prospects, are going to be good tests for Grimes and Dotson. Grimes has to contend with the absurdly long Horton-Tucker, who is raw but can shut down huge swaths of driving lanes for even elite athletes. And while Wigginton is undersized, his shot creation ability could overwhelm even a good defender in Dotson. Iowa State will probably lose because they can’t contend with Lawson inside, but they could make the Jayhawks bleed a bit.
Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt - 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Ole Miss: Terence Davis; Vanderbilt: Simi Shittu, Aaron Nesmith
Shittu (and Darius Garland, who is injured) have gotten most of the headlines for Vandy, but Nesmith is probably a future NBA player as well. He’ll draw most of the matchups against second-round prospect Davis, who is a bullying finisher and solid defender that will test Nesmith’s frame concerns.
West Virginia vs. Texas - 9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
West Virginia: Segaba Konate; Texas: Kerwin Roach, Jaxson Hayes
Hayes is an up-and-coming prospect taking the Zach Collins route of per-minute production to establish himself. While he’s a solid athlete and good defender, he struggled early on against Daniel Gafford, and Konate offers the same force as a rim protector.
Indiana vs. Michigan - TBD, CBS
Indiana: Romeo Langford; Michigan: Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis
Matthews has cooled off after a hot start, but he’s still a pretty strong two-way wing. His matchup against Langford will be fun to watch, and we’ll get a fun battle between Brazdeikis and Juwann Morgan as well.